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About The Mary A. Gowdey Library of House Histories

Mary A. Gowdey was an enthusiastic Providence Preservation Society (PPS) volunteer from the organization’s founding in 1956 until her death. She played an important role in one of PPS’s earliest and most visible and influential programs, the awarding of markers to appropriately restored historic houses. Working closely with PPS founder Antoinette F. Downing, she researched the history of those restored houses to determine their original owners and dates of construction. The information that Gowdey gathered formed the basis for the information that appears on the markers that were awarded during the first 20 years of the program. The methodology for research into house histories was in its infancy during the time that PPS and Gowdey began this program; many of the resources available to those performing similar tasks today were then still undiscovered, stored in unknown and inaccessible places in Providence City Hall. Those using the research material contained in the earlier histories files should therefore be aware of their limitations: focus on original owners and date of construction, with less concern for subsequent history of and changes to the property, and limited original sources from which to gain information. As increasing numbers and varieties of municipal documents have become available and as research methodology has become more refined, PPS house histories through the years have become more thorough in both scope and detail. Like any research document, each is a product of its time and place. Awareness of what each and every one of these documents represent in terms of scholarship should help those using them to understand how very valuable and important they are and why PPS chooses to make them widely accessible.

Wm. McKenzie Woodward

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